As Marvin and Nina Vida began sizing up the older people around them, they began to worry. “So many older people have trouble even getting out of a chair,” said Nina, 68. “They tend not to participate, to sit and say that’s too hard, and they atrophy. We didn’t want that to happen to us.”
The Huntington Beach couple, who have been married 49 years, had no intentions of slowing down. Marvin, 71, still works full time as an attorney, and Nina is a fiction writer who’s just finished her sixth book. But up until 18 months ago, neither had done much exercise. Both were overweight and out of shape. Furthermore, Nina struggled with high blood pressure and Marvin with arthritis and back problems.
“The more I read about exercise, the more I became convinced it was a good thing for people our age,” Marvin said. “But we’re not jocks. Believe me.”
They joined a 24-Hour Fitness center but soon realized that membership alone wasn’t enough. They asked to see a trainer and met Tracy Markley, a specialist in senior fitness. Markley began seeing each of them separately twice a week, putting them through a routine that included cardio work, either on a treadmill or exercise bike, weight training and stretching.
Markley also talked to them about their diet. After some experimenting, Nina found she did best on a low-fat, low-calorie diet, while Marvin did better on a high-protein, low-carbohydrate diet.
After several months, the new regimen lowered Nina’s blood pressure, so she needed less medication to control it, and over a year she dropped 20 pounds from her 5-foot-6 frame, taking her from 190 pounds to 170. “I’m still not skinny, but I’m skinnier.”
Meanwhile, Marvin’s weight fell from 250 to 200, he stopped feeling the ill effects of arthritis, and the chronic back problem he’d suffered for years disappeared. He became so enthralled with the benefits of exercise, he converted the couple’s garage into a gym, with a treadmill, a recumbent bicycle, free weights, a universal weight machine and a fully mirrored wall.
“The cars stay outside because we’re more important,” he said.
Now Marvin works out in his garage at least four times a week, doing 30 minutes of cardio work and 30 minutes of weight training per session. “I look at it this way,” Marvin said. “Exercise is my medicine, and I have to take it. The hardest part is just getting into the garage to start, but once I’m in, sometimes it turns out to be fun.”
Nina walks on the treadmill for 30 to 45 minutes six days a week and works with weights once or twice in addition to a weekly session with Markley. Every weekend the couple take a long hike together. One of their favorites is the I Think I Can Trail in Crystal Cove, near Laguna Beach, which takes more than two hours to hike.
“Tracy provided the framework we needed,” Marvin said. “She was encouraging and instructive, and we believed in her.”
Though Marvin doesn’t see Markley anymore because he’s doing well on his own, Nina anticipates sticking with her weekly session. “I need the push,” she said. “I’ll probably see her for the rest of my life.”
Tracy Markley, 36
Background: American Council on Exercise certified personal trainer, IDEA member and IDEA Elite personal fitness trainer. Specializes in senior fitness and exercise and the treatment of arthritis, osteoporosis and diabetes.
Personal best: “I’m noncompetitive.”
Key in this case: “Marvin and Nina were ready to listen. They knew they needed to do this, and they did it.”
Personal fitness routine: Walks every day and weight trains three to five days a week. “I work out with my clients and eat right.”
Philosophy: “Fitness is more about being able to do everyday activities without pain, to have energy and to feel good about yourself inside and out than about being a size 2 with a perfect body.”